UFC couldn't ask for better barker
Nothing excites promoters more than a highly skilled fighter who is talented, brash and self-assured, who never takes a backward step when confronted, couldn't care less what others think of him and feels disdain for his foes and lets the world know about it at every turn.
Only one man in UFC possesses all of these traits -- middleweight contender Chael Sonnen.
Never one to bite his tongue, Sonnen has mastered the skill of trash talking. And he has put that skill on display throughout his running feud with 185-pound titleholder Anderson Silva. Sonnen has relentlessly expressed utter disrespect for Silva and everything he represents. When it comes to Silva, no topic is off limits for Sonnen.
The attacks have been so vicious that casual fans are drawn to Sonnen, usually to vilify him. Sonnen is UFC's equivalent of boxing's Floyd Mayweather Jr. Most fight fans don't like Sonnen and will eagerly drop $50 or more to purchase a pay-per-view event in hopes of seeing him get beaten to a pulp.
Hate him all you want, but Sonnen is a godsend for the UFC. He generates huge financial revenues for the promotion. Silva is a great champion (arguably the greatest mixed martial artist ever), but the reason many are predicting his July 7 title defense in Las Vegas will garner more than 1 million buys is Sonnen.
The talkative challenger sells, and if he walks away with Silva's title UFC reps will smile from ear to ear.
A Sonnen victory will be like hitting the jackpot at Mandalay Bay, where UFC 148 will take place. And there will definitely be a rubber match if Sonnen becomes the new middleweight champion, setting up another megafight. Sonnen-Silva III could potentially become one of the highest-grossing fight events ever.
What would make a third fight with Sonnen more compelling is Silva's newfound willingness to toss some trash talk in the direction of his longtime tormentor. Silva previously has opted not to publicly throw insults or threats at Sonnen. But that changed Monday during a UFC 148 conference call. Tired of having himself, his family, friends, training partners and native Brazil verbally humiliated by Sonnen, the champ went on the offensive.
"I'm going to make sure every one of his teeth are broken, his arms are broken, his legs are broken," Silva said. "He's not going to be able to walk out of the Octagon by himself."
The champion's verbal outburst added fuel to an already intense fire. And to those fans still yearning for Silva-Georges St. Pierre or Silva-Jon Jones, imagine how big a fight between Sonnen and St. Pierre or Jones would be? Jones and St. Pierre are great champions in their own rights, but each is similar to Silva in that neither talks much trash. They are usually on the receiving end of verbal taunts.
It would be fun watching Sonnen get under the skin of St. Pierre and Jones. Talk about prefight sparks if an angered St. Pierre or Jones retaliated. A Sonnen victory Saturday will be a boon for UFC and mixed martial arts.
Think: Silva-Jones megafight
It's easy to look at this thing on the surface and say, "Hey, if Chael won, the UFC would have an outspoken champ who understands, perhaps more than anyone else, how to promote a fight. Home run.' But let's a dig a little here.
Sonnen is a terrific salesman, but consider something: Who is Chael Sonnen without Anderson Silva? He was relatively unknown prior to UFC 109, when he first started laying into Silva through the media. After losing to Silva at UFC 117, he fought Brian Stann at UFC 136, a card that reportedly produced very weak pay-per-view numbers.
He has added plenty of wrinkles to his verbal repertoire lately, but in crunch time, what does Sonnen talk about? Silva, and Brazilians in general. Once that connection with the world's greatest fighter is gone, will he find new material?
For the sake of argument, let's say he does. Let's say Sonnen is simply so brilliant he manufactures one rivalry after the next with each opponent. Unlikely, considering he didn't against Stann. Or Mark Munoz. Or even Michael Bisping. But let's say he does.
That's still small potatoes compared to the options the UFC has if Silva enters the cage July 7 and straight-up DOMINATES Sonnen, as some have predicted he'll do. What we'll have then is a situation in which a large audience just tuned in to see the consensus No. 1 fighter in the world and was blown away by his performance. "That guy is the real deal," they'll say. "Wonder when he fights next?"
What if "next" is a superfight against UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas in January? UFC president Dana White has already teased the possibility of an event going down early next year in the arena, which drew 50,000 for a Manny Pacquiao fight in March 2010.
Imagine that scenario. Silva, coming off the performance of his life in which he buried Sonnen once and for all with an emphatic knockout in the rematch -- meets Jones, the future of the sport, the unbeatable, confident 24-year-old. That's dollar signs is what that is.
If Sonnen wins, that's all gone. There's the potential for a rematch to complete the trilogy, which would be a big fight in itself, but gone is the megafight. Gone is the chance to have Jones possibly defeat Silva in that megafight, which would catapult him to super-superstar status, yet another potential positive for the UFC.
All of this doesn't even take into account a couple general facts that make Silva the preferable champion if you're the UFC. He's Brazilian, so he brings in an additional market that Sonnen doesn't, and his fighting style is preferable to that of Sonnen because he produces more action.
Sonnen has been exactly what the UFC has needed in that he has been an interesting rival to a guy who was in desperate need of a challenge. What's best for the UFC now, though, is that rival losing again.
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